Making Eretz Israel: The 1967 Six-Day War and Its Consequences
Prelude to the war
The Arab-Israeli conflict (the four main wars between the various Arab states and Israel) dominated over the politics of the region of the Middle East since the formal proclamation of the independence of the Zionist Israel in May 1948 and has profoundly influenced events inside and relations between the regional state.
After the first 1948−1949 Arab-Israeli War, when the Arab world had de facto to recognize the existence of the Zionist Israel, although there was an armistice between belligerent sides, the Arab-Israeli conflict continued. Therefore, the entire region of the Middle East was imperiled by the real possibility of the outburst of the next war. As it was already the time of the Cold War, it was as well the proper prospect to involve both superpowers in the conflict as they politically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily, supported different sides involved in the conflict. Nevertheless, the spirit of the new war was fueled by an intensive regional arms race as the states built up their military power and have been preparing for the next conflict.
A new chance for Israel appeared soon in 1956 when it joined with the UK and France to attack Egypt for the sake to reverse the decision by the Government of Egypt to nationalize the Suez Canal that was at that time under the British and French control but as well as to neutralize Palestinian commando attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip which was under Egyptian administration. The 1956 Suez Crisis (July−November), or the second 1956 Arab-Israeli War, followed the refusal by the US and the UK to finance the Aswan Dam on the Nile River in southern Egypt closed to Sudan. As a consequence, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein nationalized the Suez Canal on July 26th, 1956 in order to provide necessary investment capital for the construction of the dam. However, in response, London and Paris intended to overthrow Nasser, partly as most of the shares in the canal were owned in these countries, but as well as because they were afraid of his Arab nationalism which was hostile to the colonial presence of the UK and France in Africa and the Middle East. Nasser’s Arab nationalism was also anti-Zionist and, therefore, directly pointed against Israel which humiliated Egypt during the first 1948−1949 Arab-Israeli War. Nasser knew very well that within the Zionist project of a Greater Israel (Eretz Israel (Yisrael) – Land of Israel) some of the Egyptian territories had to be annexed. Israel was also aware very well that Egypt is the strongest anti-Zionist state and power in the region and that the future existence of Israel primarily depended on the pacification of the anti-Zionists sentiments by Egypt.
To provide a pretext for military intervention against Egypt, Israel agreed to start military operations by invading the Sinai (which had to be part of a Greater Israel) on October 29th, and on November 5th, British and French troops began to land in Port Said and occupied the Suez Canal to ensure the safety of its traffic. The problem was that majority of the British and French public, in fact, heavily opposed the invasion and occupation which was opposed also by the USA (regardless of the strong Zionist lobby in America). Pressed by the international community and faced with a lack of US military support, two Western aggressors agreed to a cease-fire on November 6th. Next month they withdraw their military troops.
During the crisis, Israeli forces occupied two lands of Egypt: the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. However, they have been forced to retreat to the armistice lines as a consequence of the international pressure including both superpowers at the time – the USSR and the USA. That was the first uncharacteristic gesture by them in the Cold War to show a sign of cooperation after the 1950−1953 Korean War to prevent further escalation of the conflict in the Middle East which could repeat the recent war in the Korean Peninsula. After the 1956 Suez Crisis, in order to prevent the next regional crisis and war, the UNO sent an emergency (observation) force (the UNEF) to Sinai (Egypt) on the border with Israel.
The Suez Crisis has shown the loss of the British and French superpower status in global politics and international relations only 11 years after WWII for the very reason the crisis proved that they were unable to act in the international arena without crucial support by the USA. The direct consequences in domestic affairs were soon visible: 1) it led in the UK to the resignation of Anthony Eden two months later, while 2) in France the crisis speeded up the final collapse of the Fourth Republic. Nevertheless, the most important consequence of the crisis was that instead to humiliate Egypt of Nasser, it, actually, drastically increased his image among the Arabs as an anti-colonial leader who succeeded to prevent aggression of the UK, France, and Israel. Probably the focal consequence of the crisis was that anti-Zionist sentiments by all Arabs became common and sharp. What the Arabs understood from the 1956 Suez Crisis was that the ideology of Zionism and its state of Israel are a common danger in the Middle East. The Egypt of Nasser became an Arab leader in their struggle against the Zionist Israel.
By the early 1960s, the region of the Middle East was becoming more and more a standard hot spot of the US-USSR Cold War rivalry as these two superpowers have been competing with one another for global power and a focal influence in international relations. The Zionist Israel had only a chance to survive under the US support, while the Arabs hoped to get crucial assistance from the Soviet Union to wipe out Israel from the map.
Israel had previously warned the Arab countries that it would go to war under any one of the next four cases: 1) The closing of the Strait of Tiran; 2) The sending of Iraqi troops to Jordan; 3) The signing of an Egyptian-Jordanian defense pact; and 4) The withdrawal of the UN observation troops (in fact, peacekeeping forces). By June 1967, mainly due to President Nasser of Egypt, all those conditions existed, making war inevitable.
Just before the war started, an approximate maximum number of men under arms of all belligerent states was as follows: Israel 230.000; Egypt 200.000; Syria 63.000; Jordan 56.000; and Iraq 90.000.
The 1967 Six-Day War (June 5−10th), or the third 1967 Arab-Israeli War, drastically changed the geopolitical environment in the Middle East transforming the Zionist Israel into the regional imperialistic superpower. The direct causes of the war have been Egyptian pressure on the UN Emergency Force in the Sinai Peninsula to withdraw from the border with Israel, and a concentrating of Egyptian military forces in Sinai in May 1967. Once Egypt had secured the removal of the UNEF, it sought to stifle Zionist Israel by shipping blockade of the Strait of Tiran, closing the principal Israeli seaport of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba. In other words, simultaneously with those actions in Sinai, Egypt started a naval blockade in the Gulf of Aqaba of the Israeli critical seaport of Eilat. The Zionist state of Israel became surrounded by the Arab countries which concluded a defense agreement – Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The Iraqi military troops already have been located in Jordan not too far from the borders with Israel. With the blockade in place, the Egyptian and the Syrian troops became mobilized along the borders created at the end of the last Arab-Israeli war. Israel responded by starting the war on June 5th by launching a massive air attack (urged especially by Israeli Chief of Staff Itzhak Rabin) on some two dozen Arab airfields, destroying more than 400 Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian air forces on the ground.
In the spring of 1967, the Soviet intelligence service informed the Government of Syria that Israeli troops have been gathering in North Israel to invade Syria. However, it was proved later that such Israeli mobilization did not exist. Nevertheless, clashes between Israel and Syria lasted during the whole year before, and Israeli authorities declared publicly that it was necessary to bring down the Government of Syria if it will not stop terrorist attacks from the territory of Syria by the Palestinians (who were the refugees from Israel) on the territory of Israel (which occupied Palestinian land and committed ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians since 1948).
As a matter of self-protection move, Syria applied to Egypt for assistance, and Cairo in May 1967 sent its troops to the Sinai Peninsula which was bordering Israel. Several days later, the Egyptian President Nasser asked the UN observer forces (the UNEF) located between Egypt and Israel to redeploy from their current positions. After the redeployment, the Egyptian army occupied Sharm al-Sheikh at the southern point of the Sinai Peninsula and proclaimed a blockade of the Israeli seaport of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba. The argument for Cairo was that path to Eilat was passing through Egyptian territorial waters. This move became the source of mass shocking and frightening of the Israeli public and Government, which thought that it was in danger of annihilation. Nevertheless, the Israeli army with American weapons and equipment already was well-prepared for the next war and, in fact, just needed a formal pretext to start military actions against its focal regional enemy – Egypt.
During the diplomatic crisis, on June 4th, 1967 Israeli Cabinet voted 12 vs. 2 for the pre-emptive strikes (war) tomorrow morning and, therefore, on June 5th Israel attacked both Egypt and Syria under the formal excuse of the pre-emptive action which destroyed their grounded air forces in few hours while Jordan and Iraq were bombed too. It was destroyed the main part of the Arab air forces. Simultaneously, under the direction of General Moshe Dayan, ground forces of Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula, Jerusalem’s Old City, Jordan’s West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, seizing and occupying these areas when the unsponsored cease-fire was declared on June 10th, 1967. A neighboring Jordan joined the war on the side of Syria and Egypt but was attacked by Israel too. During only six days, the Arab coalition of the three states – Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, have been decisively defeated. The use of technologically advanced weaponry (made in the USA) and paratroops brought the Israeli army to the Suez Canal in two days, encircling at the same time the Egyptian army on the Sinai Peninsula. The war entered a more serious stage after the shelling of Israeli targets by Syria and Jordan. East Jerusalem was occupied by the Israeli troops who cleared the whole of the West Bank of the Jordanian army. Israeli tanks occupied the north Syrian Golan Heights in two days of June 9th and 10th, captured Kuneitra, and advanced some 50 km. into the state territory of Syria.
As became quite clear who is going to be a loser and who the winner, Jordan accepted the UN cease-fire on June 7th, Egypt on June 8th, Syria on June 9th, and Israel on June 10th. After the Zionist Blitzkrieg in the Middle East, as the results of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The Israeli troops remained established on the east bank of the Suez Canal (until the next fourth 1973 Arab-Israeli War or the Yom Kippur War). The process of the re-creation of the biblical Kingdom of Israel started as the territories of ancient Judea and Samaria have been occupied.
The third 1967 Arab-Israeli War, which lasted only six days and, therefore is considered as one of the shortest wars in history, had, nevertheless dramatic consequences in the region of the Middle East but as well as in global politics as Israel became the dominant regional power (and the US behind Israel). The process of the creation of a biblical Greater Israel (from the Nile to the Euphrates) started with extreme joy by the Zionists. On the other hand, the fascinating speed and thoroughness of Israeli (and American) military victory discredited and demoralized the Arab world especially Egypt, Jordan, and Syria – the main direct losers of the war. However, on the other hand, the Palestinian national movement started to emerge as a major actor in Palestine after 1967 in the form of the political and military groups within the Palestine Liberation Organization (the PLO).
As Israel occupied the captured territories (the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights) with formal intentions of turning them into buffer zones, the outraged Arabs protested to a world as being alarmed by Israel’s display of military troops. The number of casualties among all states during the war has been like: Israel 800 dead, 2.400 wounded, 18 missings; Egypt 11.500 dead, 15.000 wounded, 5.500 missings; Syria 700 dead, 3.500 wounded, 500 missings; Jordan 2000 dead, 5.000 wounded, 4.500 missings; Iraq 100 dead, 300 wounded. This war ended with an unsponsored cease-fire without signing the treaty.
Nevertheless, the fast Israeli military victory over the four Arab countries had indefinite consequences. That was particularly true concerning Israeli occupation of the West Bank of Jordan and the Gaza Strip of Egypt as it now transformed the problem of self-determination for the Palestinians from one that concerned Arab countries and Israel alike to one of exclusively Israeli concern. In fact, probably the focal consequence of the 1967 Six-Day War was the fact that the Palestinian Question instead of dividing the Arab world now united it against the Zionist Israel.
The 1967 Six-Day War marked a turning point in the relations between the Zionist Israel and the Arabs but as well as and the world at large. The fantastic military performance of the Zionist armed forces of Israel convinced Arabs that the Zionists will continue with the realization of their dreams of a Greater Israel from the time of Theodor Herzl at the expense of both Arab land and Arab lives. The message of the Zionist victory to the Soviet Union was also clear: the American weapons have been technologically more advanced and efficient compared to the Soviet. With regard to the USA, which was crucially supporting Israel from its beginning to exist as a Zionist state, it became after June 1967 understood as a focal regional ally and a key bulwark against the Soviet-supported Arabs who controlled much of the oil Americans needed to run their industries and cars.
However, on the other hand, while the quick Israeli campaign on three fronts undoubtedly demonstrated military advantages and effectiveness of the Zionists followed by their superiority over their much more numerous Arab enemies, it at the same time led Israel to underestimate the Arabs and Arab power in general. Practically, the Israeli military victory was much due to the fatal orders of Egyptian Field-Marshall Ali Amer for a general withdrawal on June 6th, which became a disastrous route. Nevertheless, this move led the Zionists to miscalculate real Egyptian military power in the next fourth 1973 Arab-Israeli War (the 1973 Yom Kippur War).
On June 9th, 1967, a day before the cease-fire, as the most immediate effect of the war, Egyptian President Nasser announced on TV his resignation but hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets demonstrating their demand that he would remain in power. Nasser was a hard-liner against the Zionist Israel and the Western imperialists, being repressive in the home affairs, he from his start of being in power in 1954 until his death in 1970 was the most popular and influential Arab leader in the world. For much in the Arab world, the success of Nasser in Egypt provided a model for their aspirations for genuine independence, especially after his successful nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956.
After the war, Jordan suffered a serious economic crisis, while the Palestinians became stateless refugees and subjects to martial law on the occupied territory of the West Bank. The results of the war were set for the next decades of unrest, violation, and terrorism (for instance, during the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972).
Finally, pan-Arab nationalism and calls for Arab unity have proved in the 1960s and 1970s largely powerless to resolve settlement of the outstanding geopolitical problems in the region of the Middle East. The US became the most powerful external influence in the region, using the fear of the Soviet expansion to increase its support to Israel, which with Saudi Arabia, and Persia (Iran) until 1979, functioned as the principal surrogates of the US economic and geopolitical interests in the area.